By CHERYL CRUCE
There were many treasures on the shoulders of the dirt road of my youth. Wild plum trees and grape vines produced savory fruit. Our neighbor had pear and pecan trees. The area had its share of gardens to enjoy when the trees and vines were bare. Nothing tastes as good as a sun-ripened tomato or cucumber on a hot afternoon.
To say we were hungry as kids, I would be amiss. There was plenty of food growing all around the place. My favorite, not mentioned in the above listing, was blackberries. Mom would hand us a bucket to fill with the berries – a whole bucket led to making a Blackberry Dobie, basically blackberry dumplings.
Harvesting the berries was an arduous chore for us to complete because we often ate half of what we gathered. We also had to be careful of the briar patch the berries grew in. The bushes were covered in thorns that would snag our clothing or bare skin. Then there was the warning, “Watch out for snakes!” Heeding the alarm, we would begin collecting the morsels for dessert that evening.
I am not sure how it happened, but it would seem to me the sweetest, blackest, most succulent berry would be in the center of the patch just beyond my fingertips. I may have been short on the reach, but my spirit was long on determination. I would shake the bushes for any unwanted visitors and then walk headstrong into the thicket to grab my reward. Once obtained, the berry never made it into my bucket. Standing beneath the afternoon sun, I would savor every bit of my conquest. I had fought hard for the prize, persevering as the briars snagged my skin.
Those childhood days of gathering the fruits of creation are like life’s mountaintop experiences. There are times of plenty when the beauty of God surrounds us. His blessings are just a hand reach away, waiting for us to taste, knowing He is good and trustworthy (Psalm 34:8). The mountaintop is joyous, carefree, and innocent. Our soul is content as the peace of the Lord fills our spirit and gives us rest.
For every mountaintop experience, we have come to understand the valleys below are also a place we must dwell. The valley is the testing of faith. Like a briar patch, a valley can snag at our spirit. We become restless as the world around us seems to fall apart. We experience the loss of work, and the bills become their own mountain. We receive a troubling doctor’s report, we struggle with the illness of a loved one, and we pray for healing. Our spirit is uneasy, and we wonder if God is listening.
God hears the cries of His people; He delivers them (Psalm 34:17). Life is hard; life without God is unbearable. This world is full of highs and lows; briar patches lurk around every corner. However, we can persevere by holding to our hope in Jesus. He is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). As a child, I could push through the thicket because I kept my eyes on the prize, not the brush surrounding me. The Apostle Paul encourages us to press on to win God’s heavenward prize afforded to us by Christ (Philippians 3:14). Let today be our day of determination, looking beyond our circumstances and reaching into His blessings.
James 1:12. Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
Cheryl Mixon-Cruce is Pastor of Ochlockonee Bay United Methodist Church and Sopchoppy United Methodist Church.
This column is a repeat of one that appeared in September 2022.